Consumers may soon be able to buy genetically modified apples that don't brown and potatoes that resist black bruising spots.
The approval will likely stoke controversy as food safety advocates remain deeply skeptical about the effects of genetically altered crops, better known as GMO.
There is already concern that reviews of genetically engineered foods are voluntary rather than mandatory.
"No regulatory process should have to rely on the voluntary acquiescence by the regulated party," said Gregory Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Congress should pass legislation that requires new biotech crops to undergo a rigorous and mandatory approval process before foods made from those crops reach the marketplace. Such a system would give consumers much greater confidence that all genetically engineered products have been independently reviewed and found to be safe."
The FDA approved two GMO varietals of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, which are both known by their trade name, Arctic Apples.
Developed by Okanagan of British Columbia, Canada, the apples reduce the level of enzymes that trigger browning after being cut.
The FDA also approved three biotech varietals of potatoes, Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank and Atlantic, which all go by the trade name Innate potatoes.
The potatoes were also engineered to lower the level of enzymes that cause black spots after bruising.
"In addition, they are engineered to produce less acrylamide by lowering the levels of an amino acid called asparagine and by lowering the levels of reducing-sugars," the FDA said of the crop developed by the J.R. Simplot Co. in Boise, Idaho. "Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, and has been found to be carcinogenic in rodents."
Genetically modified foods have largely been relegated to commodity crops such as corn and soybean that don't reach supermarket shelves and are designed to resist insects and tolerate herbicides.
Exceptions include the Rainbow Papaya grown in Hawaii, which was designed to withstand a disease known as ringspot virus. The crop is widely grown but has sparked protests in the state.
The FDA said Okanagan and Simplot will need to consult with the agency about potential labeling distinguishing their crops as genetically modified.
The debate over GMO labeling is raging in several states in the form of ballot measures and legislation.